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Techniques for Mixed Media Layering

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I've been creating since I was a child. My hobbies include watercolor, drawing, art journaling, painting rocks, sewing and crochet.

Mixed media artwork

Mixed media artwork

Layered Mixed Media Art on a Budget

There is a tidal wave of supplies for mixed media coming onto the market daily. I find myself being swept along with it all—wanting, nay, needing all the latest inks, metallics, stamps, stencils, art papers, crayons and specially mixed signature paints—you name it, it's on my wish list. And none of it is cheap—especially if you buy whole sets of designer products.

I was going through some old art journals the other night and what struck me was how I had been able to produce a wide variety of pages using very few materials. Face-palm moment—I don't need a great stack of art supplies to make mixed media art.

Come and browse through some of my old journals, and I will share with you some simple techniques to add colour and layers to your art - whether in books, on paper—or anything else you want to decorate with layered mixed media.

Journal made from recycled materials.

Journal made from recycled materials.

Creating Art With Recycled Materials

The journal above is made from some leftover book packaging. I gessoed it, painted it, stamped it, painted some more, added bubble-wrap stamping, collaged it with a face and flowers I'd previously drawn, stamped some text, highlighted some areas with pen and shaded other areas with charcoal.

You can create art with recycled materials.

You can create art with recycled materials.

Budget Art Supplies

This is my suggested list of basic supplies. Pick and choose; you don't have to have everything. You could manage with paper, pens and glue to start with.

  • Acrylic paint in the three primary colours: red, blue and yellow, plus black and white. You will use a lot of paint so buy in large tubes or containers. It doesn't have to be artist quality. Craft paint is fine.
  • White gesso: A primer that can also be mixed with paint. It adds texture to backgrounds and can be built up in layers. Gesso also comes in clear and black.
  • Paintbrushes: get a cheap set; you're going to kill them anyway with all the glueing.
  • Old magazines.
  • Scrapbook papers (not essential).
  • Glue: I use glue sticks, PVA, Mod Podge and Golden Gel Medium (you don't need them all, as plain old PVA will be fine).
  • Paper towel rolls for cleaning up and dabbing your brushes dry.
  • A piece of sequin waste, sometimes called 'Punchinello'.
  • Styrofoam/polystyrene pieces.
  • Bubble wrap.
  • Watercolour soluble crayons: useful in so many ways. A little costly but well worth it.
  • Graphite pencils plus a charcoal pencil.
  • Black pens: choose waterproof Sakura Pigma Micron or Sharpies.
  • Found objects/embellishments: string, yarn, buttons, coins, washers, fabric scraps, paper scraps.
  • Look for interesting things that could be used as stamps or stencils. One of my most useful things is a piece of plastic that came out of my fridge—it was part of a shelf meant for eggs, so it has lots of perfectly round holes in it.
Paint all over with one layer of acrylic paint.

Paint all over with one layer of acrylic paint.

Glue the pieces on randomly.

Glue the pieces on randomly.

Collage the whole surface with paper scraps, then gesso.

Collage the whole surface with paper scraps, then gesso.

Mixed Media Backgrounds: First Layers

You may be working on a book, on watercolour paper, on a board or on canvas. You can even use discarded cardboard packaging. If the support (surface) is thin or very porous, it will require priming with acrylic gesso.

I love making backgrounds; it's my favourite part; it's all about experimenting and having fun with colour. Here are some techniques for backgrounds:

Tip: have a hairdryer or preferably a heat gun to speed up drying time.

  1. Paint all over with one layer of acrylic paint. You can experiment with mixing colours. Use undiluted. Allow to dry. Paint with a thin layer of gesso. Again, let it dry and use another paint colour; this time, dilute it with water, so the first colour glows through.
  2. Do the same as before, adding some torn paper text onto the first layer of paint. Glue the pieces on randomly, let them dry and continue with the other layers.
  3. Take an old credit card and scrape a layer of paint. While it is still wet, scrape another colour in the opposite direction.
  4. Collage the whole surface with paper scraps, then gesso. Use your fingers to rub paint over the surface to show up the texture. You can do the same thing with tissue paper. Glue it down and encourage it to crinkle. It must be bone dry before adding paint.
  5. Get hold of some cheap mini spray bottles, dilute some acrylic paint with water and spray the paints onto the surface. You could lay objects down—punchinella, elastic bands, plastic combs, string, bottle tops, anything to provide a stencil.
  6. Get a piece of flat styrofoam—mine comes from frozen pizza packaging. Get a ballpoint pen and draw a design into the foam. Paint it with acrylic and press it onto your paper. Instant stamp at almost no cost at all—and someone got pizza. Make lots of these.
Take a small piece of bubble wrap, paint the bubbly side with white acrylic paint and stamp it onto your page.

Take a small piece of bubble wrap, paint the bubbly side with white acrylic paint and stamp it onto your page.

Get your child to draw pictures for you.

Get your child to draw pictures for you.

Adding Layers to Mixed Media Art

I love adding layers; it's also my favourite part. Be bold and don't worry about the end result.

  • Make a border. Collage some scrap paper or scribble a border with water-soluble crayons. Entirely up to you whether you activate them with water or not. Alternatively, take your black pens and doodle all around the edges.
  • Cut out interesting images from magazines—faces, food, cars, watches, text, animals, trees, anything that takes your eye. My kids and I sometimes spend an afternoon going through old National Geographics and cutting out things we think would be useful for a collage. We do spend quite a lot of time reading the articles, too—as a home-schooling mama, and I like the idea of learning while playing!
  • Lay down your collage pieces, and move them around the page until you have made a layout that appeals. Glue the pieces into place. Once they are dry, take a soft graphite pencil or charcoal pencil and go around the edges lightly. Smudge the graphite/charcoal with a finger or a paper blender. This integrates the collage into the background and gives a nice grungy look.
  • I bet you have been using paper towels to wipe your brushes on and clean up spills as you go, yes? Well, go get them out of the trash and carefully spread them out. Look at those colours! If you want, you can glue them directly onto your page, or maybe, you'd like to iron them first. Tear into strips and leave gaps in between so your background shows through. Add more paint if you wish. Anything goes!
  • Take a small piece of bubble wrap, paint the bubbly side with white acrylic paint and stamp it onto your page. Let it go over some of the collage.
  • Get your child to draw pictures for you. My daughter is great at portraits—she draws very spontaneously and loves to let me have them for my journals.

Mixed Media Art: Top Layers

Adding the top layer is my favourite part, really! I love to see how it all comes together, how certain areas melt into the background and other bits pop.

  1. Scribble, draw or doodle.
  2. Embellish with small objects.
  3. Glue on a family photo.
  4. Add lace scraps.
  5. Journal or add a quote that inspires you.
  6. Highlight areas with a metallic gel pen or a white correction pen. Go raid your kid's pencil case.
  7. Shade other areas with your charcoal pencil. It pushes them back into the page.
Add embellishments.

Add embellishments.

Adding Embellishments

There are trillions of manufactured, mass-produced embellishments at craft stores these days. It's much more fun to find your own. Be authentic, and don't follow the crowd. Steer away from other people's designs and discover your own.

Resourceful Creativity

There are supplies for your mixed media art all around you—look in the kitchen; have you thought about painting your pages with coffee or tea? How about in the yard? Glue some tiny twigs onto your pages. The bathroom? Those make-up sponges would be great for making textured backgrounds. You don't have to spend lots of money to have fun with art!

Arty? Crafty? Just Want to Comment? Please Do!

Mataya from Oregon on August 25, 2019:

Bev, I love your work! The colors and textures are awesome. You are inspiring me to try stuff that I use to do in my 20s and 30s. I use to make collages but, had no idea that was what I was doing. I actually used polymer clay as part of a collage. Very fun.

Do you sell your work anywhere?

Lisa on April 24, 2018:

Very much appreciate all of your tips because I'm been trying to figure out how to get the transparency look. Thank you for creating this site!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 07, 2012:

Thanks, Chef. Although I am a bit addicted to art supplies (they are always on my Christmas list), I do make them last a very long time. I also recycle a lot of stuff like packaging - flat-ish Amazon boxes make great journal covers!

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on December 07, 2012:

Lovely suggestions and final creations, thank you. Being a dabbler in all things arty I'm inspired by your inventions and techniques. So much creative fun going on. It's interesting to note that you prefer buying in regularly by the looks of things whereas I am the original miser when it comes to using paint,ink,paper and other materials. I tend to keep things for years! You probably produce much more I suspect! That's great.

Flourishing journals are the bees knees.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on December 06, 2012:

Many thanks, Lori x

By Lori from USA on December 05, 2012:

Nice Hub - I like mixed media art too.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on July 17, 2012:

Thank you so much, you very clever cat! I'll have to find you on Pinterest!

Rachel Vega from Massachusetts on July 16, 2012:

Wow! What a beautiful hub and gorgeous artwork.

I love to mix different types of media together, and this is so inspiring -- this colorful hub has got to be my favorite! Voted up, awesome, beautiful, and pinned it. Thanks!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on June 20, 2012:

Thank you very much, EyesStraightAhead.

Shell Vera from Connecticut, USA on June 19, 2012:

Your artwork is great. I am a huge fan of mixed media and I love the way you use it. Your use of color and texture is great, and I love the ways the objects blend together yet still stand apart.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 16, 2012:

And so are you for saying so!

kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on May 16, 2012:

Wonderful hub - I love to art journal and it is so much fun to see other artist's journals. Your work is delightful!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 14, 2012:

You are right, Natashalh. There seems to be this crazy notion that we have to have all the supplies and all the neat techniques in order to make art, and that is so not true. I think a person can (has to) be more creative if they have less to use, iykwim?

Natasha from Hawaii on May 14, 2012:

I was thinking about you today in the craft store. I went specifically for some mod podge and was amazed by how expensive so much of the stuff there is, especially considering that most of the ore-fab things seem to be exceptionally low-quality. Just as you noted, nothing at all was inspirational there! I just wanted to get what I came for and get out.

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 07, 2012:

Thanks so much, SimeyC, yougotme, Brainy Bunny, GoodLady, Judi Bee and Laura. Your comments are very much appreciated.

LauraGSpeaks from Raleigh, NC on May 07, 2012:

I love this hub! What great ideas. You made it so inspirational and also imply that it is easy to try. The best part is your artwork that you have used as examples. The visuals are just great.

Judi Brown from UK on May 07, 2012:

I had no idea what the title meant, but what an accessible art form this is. Love the results and it sounds like fun. If I ever have some time, this in on my "to do" list.

Voted up etc

Penelope Hart from Rome, Italy on May 07, 2012:

Now I know what to play at when I play with my granddaughter next. (when tidy, clean parents have hopefully left us alone) It's such a fun Hub and such a great way to get children engaged with learning.

Plus the artwork is wonderful. (How cool to use an old credit card to paint with! And the paper towels in the rubbish!) Love it theraggededge

and Voting all around on this one.

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 06, 2012:

I used to make collages way back in high shool, and I've done a little scrapbooking, but the techniques you've shown here go way beyond anything I've seen before. I can't wait to break out the glue and paints and everything else in my crafts cabinet!

Renz Kristofer Cheng from Manila on May 06, 2012:

Wow! Marvelous! I'm really interested in arts. This is just great! It's my first time to be exposed to mixed media layering. :)

Simon from NJ, USA on May 06, 2012:

Fascinating hub - even this art challenged person may have to try this with his grandson!

Bev G (author) from Wales, UK on May 06, 2012:

Good fun to do with grandchildren!

Dan Harmon from Boise, Idaho on May 06, 2012:

Fascinating - I've never heard or seen of anything like this. This has to go on my "to try" list of things I'd like to do.